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Return of ‘Bagheera’ in the Mowgli land of Pench

In the Mowgli land of Central India’s Pench tiger reserve , ‘ Bagheera’  has returned. And this black leopard is attracting the attention of a large number of wildlife tourists. So far only a few lucky people have got a chance to see some glimpses of this elusive big cat, mostly wandering around the buffer zone of the jungle and also often visiting the core area. Despite the presence of  the star big -cats like Collarwalli, Patdev or L-Mark, there is a lot of buzz  in the park about ‘ Bagheera‘ too. Kipling Immortalises Black Panther Rudyard Kipling immortalized the black panther  –Bagheera. As a child Kipling lived in India and most of his stories are set in the country, though it is not entirely clear in exactly which part of the country.  The jungles that claim to be associated with Kipling stories include Pench National Park located near the district of Seoni.  Also read : Like Her Mother in Pench, Patdev Tigress delivers 5 cubs The park is also popularly known as Mowgli land and t

Laughing Dove and Life Lessons for Survival

For four days in the third week of March, gusty winds lashed the city of Bhopal, the capital city of  the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh . The storm was so strong that branches were broken off from trees. At many places, even the trees were uprooted by the impact. Amidst all this, two  delicate chicks of Laughing Dove, barely about 14-days old, were left alone by their mother. The small chicks actually weathered the storm - not one but  four consecutive nights. Clutched to the branch of a Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), the small birds were braving the thundershowers.

Iron Grip, Nature's  Gift

Spending time in quarantine after recovering from Covid19, one morning we spotted some hectic activities at our rooftop garden where two petite  chicks were hopping from one pot to another. They would take small flights and sit inside the pot for hours till their mom arrived, fed them by regurgitation –feeding in an unusual way of interlocking her beak with those of chicks as if sparring like wrestlers . The mom actually first swallows the grains and then takes out to feed the chicks . The dove chicks are known for leaving the nest 12-13 days after hatching. However, they do not  take long flights. They fledge at 15-17 days of age.  My family has spent over a fortnight protecting Tony-Mony –yes we named them -from the local predator birds and  cats and also making available  feed for them. But  on the very first day when  we noticed the  pair of small birds , a powerful storm approached at dusk. As the clouds thunder and lightning forced the people to stay indoors,  the two chicks  were all alone . Their mom and dad were missing.  We saw them taking a small flight as they disappeared in the Neem tree. While its branches were blowing precariously, we spotted them perched over a stem that also continued to be swayed by the strong winds. Soon it started raining cats and dogs. It was pitch -dark. As I went to sleep, there was another spell of squall. The lightning in the night and the thunder that followed sounded even more ominous. We waited for the storm to be over and prayed for their safety At the crack of the dawn, we rushed  out and looked for the  fragile birds at the Neem tree.

Also read: Cry to Save Panna from Ken Betwa Project Gets Louder

As we learnt more about the birds from the Handbook of the Birds of the World , we found them to have special tendons called flexor digitorum longus and flexor halluciss longus which are connected to flexor muscles in the leg. The digitorum branches control the first three toes in front while the halluciss works the back toe, known as the hallux. This enables the bird to have a locked tight grip to ensure it does not become a part of the flying branches. When birds land on a tree, their toes automatically tighten around the branches on which they are perched. When the leg is bent, the tendons and then the muscles stretch tight and pull the toes around the branch. “This holds them in place during high winds or when they sleep. Birds must make an effort to unclench their toes in order to take off. They may sway with the branch and wobble in high winds, but they won’t let go of the branch”, we learnt.

 Life Lessons from the Petite Bird

Thanks to the wonderful mechanism of nature,  the next morning , we found the two chicks again , hale and hearty , hopping at our roof top garden waiting for their parents. But the lazy mother was  still missing. Around 9 am, there was the first sign of the presence of their parents. They made an inimitable laughing sound as they sat on the rooftop. We could notice a wave of energy  in the two chicks as they responded to the whistling sound. The grains spread by us on the floor attracted the  mom  and she made a sharp flight and landed on the roof. Without any delay,  she started picking them with  her beak for the first meal to the chicks after the storm . The dad was still nowhere around. For the past over 15 days, the roof top garden continues to host Tony-Mony. They have been camouflaging well in the pot soil and the Champa (Plumeria) branches. They also know how to keep a safe distance from us and wait for their mom for the next meal.  Very common in  concrete jungles , the Laughing Dove can be spotted in urban Indian gardens. They make a distinctive call .Its peculiar features, make it different from other dove  species. This dove has the feathers used in displays on the foreneck, instead of the hindneck. The Laughing Dove is present in Africa and Asia. Its African range includes the most part of the continent except the Sahara and some western regions.

The Lazy Mom

This dove has a pinkish head and is monogamous, solitary and territorial. The pair-bonds are for life. The nest is a flimsy platform built by the female, made with roots, twigs and stems often brought by the male. The same nest can be used several times, and some doves use old abandoned nests of other birds’ species. The female lays two glossy white eggs. The incubation lasts about two weeks mainly by the female, but the male may replace her sometimes.  And the chicks come out only to be abandoned by the lazy mom. After they grow to the age of 14 days, they are never taken back to the nest , not even during the  night storms . The chicks are left out and they learn life lessons to survive.

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